I glance at my phone to see yet another text from my friend asking about my diet. This time it's a question about how to juice. Multiple emotions compete for my attention. I'm excited she's interested in being healthier. I'm honored to be her inspiration. I'm mildly annoyed she hasn't checked out the numerous books and blogs I've told her about. After all, I am not a dietitian. I also can't help but remember what a hard time she gave me for three years about being a vegan.
When we finally have a conversation about it, she confesses how hard it is for her to admit to people that she's trying to make the change toward a whole foods, plant-based diet. She confesses the hardest part is not figuring out what healthy snacks to pack, but other people's attitudes.
“People are rude and judgmental,” she tells me. “How do you deal with it?”
I make a special effort to be a “good vegan.” I never expect people to provide an option for me. I cook my own dishes to share at parties or eat beforehand. I never comment on what my friends are eating. I don't tell people about my lifestyle unless asked. I'm aware of vegan etiquette. We're the minority. I don't expect people to change for me. Yet, I do expect them to be considerate. So, here are the top five things we're tired of hearing:
1. “I love bacon. How do you live without it?”
Don't ask questions you don't want the answers to. Comments about how much you love meat state the obvious (remember, you're the majority) and bait a vegan to say all those stereotypical things no one wants to hear at a party. We can live easily without bacon. Please be considerate of the fact that most vegans have spent a lot of time researching their lifestyles for health and ethical reasons. We don't want to make light of our convictions or our health. If you really want to have a conversation about factory farming, cancer research, our health histories, then we can schedule a serious conversation later.
2. “Where do you get your protein?”
Any question about another person's nutritional habits really is inappropriate unless (again) you really want to know because you're considering more plant-based meals. You wouldn't walk up to a friend who's eating a Big Mac and ask her how they manage to get their antioxidants, vitamins, or fiber. So rude! Plus, this is such an outdated question. We live in the information era. Do a bit of research if you're still dying to know how vegans manage to survive. Also, beware of becoming an ask-hole (a great term coined by a fellow vegan). Ask-holes will ask numerous and detailed questions over and over again without intending to use any of the advice.
3. “Ew. What are you eating?”
Yep, this comment has happened to me multiple times. My dad stopped bringing the super healthy lunches I was making for him because the men at his work made fun of him. We have this idea that it's OK for us to mock things that are strange or different. If you're truly curious, a simple “What are you having for lunch?” will do. You don't need to serve up your question with a steaming side of judgment.
4. “Vegans are so pretentious/judge-y/political. I'm glad you're not like that.”
This is micro-aggression. Pointing out the negative stereotypes about a group someone belongs to but then exempting them from the group is like a backhanded compliment. Sub in any minority in the place of “vegan” and you'll see how ugly it can sound. Basically, the “You're the exception to the rule” statements are reinstating and empowering stereotypes. Instead, a great way to express this thought positively would go something like this: “Wow, it was wrong of me to judge a whole group based on negative stereotypes or my selective personal experiences. One factor about your lifestyle or beliefs doesn't determine everything about you.”
5. “I can eat a burger while watching those slaughterhouse videos.”
Honestly, I don't know what to say to jokes about eating animals. Why do people make them? Nerves? Fear I might start vegangelizing? Whatever the reason, it mocks a person's core beliefs about animal rights.
A good rule of thumb: would you make this comment to someone's face about their culture, religion, or other ethical position? A little light fun (Justin Timberlake dressing up as tofu) is great; mocking a lifestyle because you consider it a fad is not.